Ga. bills would end no-excuse absentee voting, automatic registration

January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters lined up to cast ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
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January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters lined up to cast ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Republican state senators introduced a package of bills Monday to ban automatic voter registration, ballot drop boxes and no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia.

The proposals amount to an overhaul of Georgia’s election laws after record turnout resulted in wins for Democrats, including Joe Biden’s run for president and the bids by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for the U.S. Senate.

One measure would prevent voters from being automatically registered to vote when they get their driver’s licenses. Another would ban drop boxes, requiring absentee ballots to be returned through the mail or at county election offices.

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In addition, a proposal would roll back a state law allowing registered voters to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. Absentee voting would be limited to those over 75 years old, voters with disabilities or anyone required to be absent from his or her precinct.

“We’ve got to restore confidence in the ballot box. When people lose confidence in the ballot box they ultimately lose confidence in their government,” said Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Republican from Gainesville and co-sponsor of the bills. “Our goal is to be sure every vote is accounted for, accurate and legal.”

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Democrats said the bills mark a concerted effort to reduce voting access after Donald Trump lost his presidential reelection bid and his supporters made unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.

“It’s voter suppression. If you restrict access, then people get discouraged and they don’t vote. They don’t come back,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. “We have to make the argument that it’s a good process. People were able to vote, and they voted in record numbers.”

Over 1.3 million people cast absentee ballots before the November general election, about a quarter of all votes cast. Voters embraced absentee voting last year during the coronavirus pandemic as they sought to avoid human contact at in-person polling places.

A poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found most Georgians oppose restricting absentee voting to older voters or those who have a valid reason for not being able to vote in person. The poll also showed that most people support the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, and they don’t believe in the thoroughly debunked claims of widespread voter fraud.

About three-quarters of voters backed requiring either photo ID or documentation to be able to cast an absentee ballot, according to the poll.

Senators also filed several other election bills Monday, including a measure to require a copy of a voter’s ID, a driver’s license number or a state ID number when requesting an absentee ballot. That bill is less restrictive than a proposal introduced last week that would have required voters to submit a copy of their photo ID twice, both when they apply for absentee ballots and when they return them.

The legislation filed Monday is sponsored by several leaders of the state Senate’s Republican majority. The bills will likely be considered for the first time in the coming days by subcommittees of the Senate Ethics Committee.

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Senate election bills

Check for updates and track these bills on the Georgia Legislative Navigator from AJC

SB 67: Absentee ballot application ID

SB 68: Ban ballot drop boxes

SB 69: End automatic voter registration

SB 70: Prohibits new Georgia residents from voting in runoffs

SB 71: Requires an excuse to vote absentee

SB 72: Mandates monthly updates to election officials of voters who have died

SB 73: Bans nonprofit organizations from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters

SB 74: Expands poll watcher access

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